The U.S. Navy has censured five service members who were in leadership roles at the time an amphibious assault vehicle accident killed nine people.
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro issued secretarial letters of censure to retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general, I Marine Expeditionary Force; Col. Christopher Bronzi, commanding officer, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit; Lt. Col. Keith Brenize, commanding officer, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, all of whom are in the Marines; Capt. Stewart Bateshansky, commander, Amphibious Task Force; and Capt. John Kurtz, commanding officer of USS Somerset, of the Navy. The Secretary of the Navy’s office announced the disciplinary action on Monday.
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A platoon of amphibious assault vehicles left Clemente Island, California, on its way to Somerset on July 30, 2020. Once they arrived, the crew left, but upon their departure ran into transmission problems that set off a series of events that resulted in the deaths of eight Marines and one sailor.
“When leaders’ actions or inactions result in the loss of life or capital resources, the senior leadership of the Department of the Navy has a responsibility to determine the root cause and hold those accountable,” Del Toro said in a message sent to the Department of the Navy on June 2. “Following a thorough review of the command investigations into the AAV sinking, these officers received SLOCs due to their inadequate leadership and execution of their oversight duties.”
Lt. Gen. Carl E. Mundy III, who led the investigation into the accident, cited “a confluence of events” including both maintenance failures and human error as the main factors contributing to the deadly outcome.
“The claims on their time and attention surfaced in a number of interviews with several senior officers who described the conditions during this period as second only to their experience in combat,” Mundy said in the concluding report that was published in October.
Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi, the then-commanding general of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, was relieved of duty following another investigation because he failed to ensure the Marines from 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, and 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion were properly trained. Every Marine in the chain of command below Castellvi received some level of administrative discipline.
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The Marines who died that day were Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, a 19-year-old rifleman from New Braunfels, Texas; Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, California, a rifleman; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California, a rifleman; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a rifleman; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California, a hospital corpsman; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 20, of Bend, Oregon, a rifleman; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 22, of Harris, Texas, a rifleman; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 18, of Portland, Oregon, a rifleman; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California, a rifleman.